For four years, Josh Wakely has been prepping a television project that many writers would kill to work on. Now the TV and music-video vet has one of the industry’s foremost producers backing him.
Warren Littlefield has signed on to serve as executive producer for “Time out of Mind,” a gritty drama series that would reimagine characters from the songs of Bob Dylan. Wakely secured Dylan’s life and music rights for the project in early 2016, and has since been working with the music legend, also an executive producer, on mapping out the show. With scripts for the first three episodes finished, along with an outline of the first three seasons, Wakely and Littlefield are ready to take the package to market.
“I believe Bob Dylan’s the greatest chronicler of American history,” says Wakely. “And all those characters that he’s created, Maggie from ‘Maggie’s Farm,’ Joey Gallo, Peggy Day, ‘Hurricane’ Carter, Tambourine Man — what if they all collided in the day after JFK’s assassination, found themselves in Greenwich Village for different reasons, and were propelled along a journey at this time of deep turmoil in the streets, where the world was changing?”
Wakely hails from Newcastle, Australia, and came up directing music videos in his home country. It was through his Australian music industry contacts that he got a foot in the door at Sony/ATV to propose an idea for an animated series built around the Beatles’ catalog.
That pitch became “Beat Bugs,” one of the first children’s series greenlit by Netflix and the first series of any kind to extensively use Beatles songs. It also won Wakely an Emmy for outstanding writing in a preschool animated program in 2017. He went on to create another children’s cartoon series, “Motown Magic,” for Netflix.
Wakely began noodling ideas for a show inspired by Dylan’s oeuvre years ago. Amid the success of “Beat Bugs,” he managed to get hold of an email for Dylan’s longtime manager, Jeff Rosen.
“I spent four days of pacing around my tiny shanty of an office at that time,” Wakely recalls, “and wrote this letter that said: ‘Bob Dylan is the most extraordinary artist of the last 50 years, and I believe I have a series that illuminates the full breadth of that genius in a new way. Could I please come and talk to you about it?’ And I sent it off to the great email gods in the sky. Then I got an email that said, ‘I can give you 15 minutes.’”
Wakely is careful not to divulge details about his interactions with the famously reticent Dylan. But the music legend’s involvement has been significant; he and Wakely have spent several sessions refining the project at Dylan’s home.
Variety first reported in 2016 that the series was being developed. When Littlefield was told that a relatively unknown writer-producer had gained rare access to Dylan, “my initial response was ‘No fucking way,’” he says. The former NBC president has had an extraordinary run as a producer since leaving the exec ranks, godfathering Noah Hawley’s “Fargo” and Bruce Miller’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” After reading Wakely’s “Time out of Mind” scripts, which came to him through his reps at WME, he quickly came aboard.
“He’s created a world,” Littlefield says of Wakely. “And the creative process is to not only have a world that’s original but a world that as a viewer you’re able to navigate — where you’re able to be pulled through character and narrative. And I think uniquely that’s what Josh was able to accomplish.”
Littlefield and Wakely are hoping, after they find a network partner (Fox 21 Television Studios, where Littlefield has an overall deal, is producing), to be in production before the end of the year — a goal that, like so many in the entertainment industry right now, is potentially challenged by the massive disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But although Wakely has been focused on “Time out of Mind,” his shingle Grace: A Storytelling Co. has other business in the works, much of it linked to a unique deal Wakely signed in 2018 that gives him wide access to Universal Music Group’s library.
“I consider Josh to be one of our most special artist signings,” says UMG exec VP Michele Anthony. “He creates compelling music-infused storytelling with every project. His creativity is nearly unparalleled, and his work resonates with viewers because everything he does flows from an artistic vision based on a desire to honor the subject of his work.”
Wakely recognizes the singularity of the opportunities he’s been afforded. But his approach has clearly resonated with music artists at a time when their catalogs are beginning to be viewed as valuable IP to employ as the basis for filmed entertainment — not just as soundtrack material. Before pitching a project, Wakely puts months of work into writing scripts, gambling that his material would fuel interest. So far it has.
“I try and put scaffolding around these ideas,” Wakely says. “And I take a very real risk that they reject months and months of work that they didn’t ask for. I’ve had this wonderful kind of run because they’re responding to the ideas.”